Congolese churches join protests against Kabila

A 16-YEAR-OLD girl at a church door was among six people who were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Sunday, during peaceful marches organised by the Roman Catholic Church, calling for the country’s constitution to be upheld.
Priests, members of Evangelical churches, and Muslims were among thousands of protesters who gathered after mass, calling on the President, Joseph Kabila, to step down.
The United Nations reports that 63 people were injured after police deployed live rounds and tear gas. Hundreds of people have been arrested, including at least a dozen priests and nuns. The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has urged Congolese security forces to “exercise restraint”. On Wednesday, Pope Francis said: “I renew my call for everyone to commit to avoiding all forms of violence.”
Protesters are seeking the implementation of the political agreement (the “St Sylvester Agreement”) made in December 2016, facilitated by the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo. This allowed President Kabila — who has exceeded his constitutional mandate — to stay in power beyond the end of his term, but stipulated that peaceful, credible, and inclusive elections should be organised by the end of 2017.
Polls, however, have been pushed back to December this year. This resulted in Christians, led by the RC Church and carrying Bibles and crucifixes, demonstrating on New Year’s Eve. Seven people were killed in a police response which the RC Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, condemned as “nothing more, nothing less than barbarism”.
The bishops announced their withdrawal from the St Sylvester Agreement in March last year, with the President of the conference, the RC Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa, citing “the lack of sincere political will and the inability of political and social actors to find a compromise”. Catholic churches, schools, priests, and nuns have become targets for attacks.

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